Occam Projects Interviews Eben Kling

Occam Projects: Tell us a little about your process. How does a painting begin for you? Do you feel as though the image is found via your process or that you have a concrete image in mind before you begin?

Eben Kling: The Last year or so I've been making images differently than I used to. Previously, I would begin working with an urgency, always pulling from drawing and painting directly and the work was a little more anecdotal or even autobiographical, for lack of a better way to put it. These days the images are far more designed and calculated--really hinging on appropriation and thievery. Though the content of the images is similar (still frantic and convoluted--still excessive) they hinge on popular images more as a catalyst to talk about larger societal (almost always American) woes.

The beginning of every picture has a different origin. I collect a lot. Mostly photographs and drawings, advertisements, magazine and the occasional objects. Sometimes these images that are found, the ones I have proclivity to using will be a great jumping off point for me, other times I have a narrative in mind I need to search google or old books for awhile until I find the pieces to realize it.

OP: Could you tell us a little bit about how you collage found imagery into your paintings? How does removing images from their original context change their meaning?

EK: In regard to found images in my paintings, they are primarily cartoons stolen from stock folders or google image search, stuff like that. I've always loved cartoons and been compelled to use them for a long time. The people that I paint, or invent...? Not really sure how to put it, but the figures that I render I suppose--they themselves are very plastic and inflated, existing in their own separated and physical plane. They resemble cartoons already, but are slightly bent, maybe a little more physical than the ubiquitous cartoon figure. The addition of very flat cartoon icons in the painting is a recent decision. Typically they are juxtaposed next to, sometimes in front of more troubling content, like a GOP debate, a sidewalk dispute post fender bender or dirty water in the long island sound. When placed there they start to function as a sarcastic veil maybe, concealing a more insidious backdrop. Cartoons have always been utilized to temper things like violence and trauma--it's in this way that I am using them too, it's not terribly different from their intended function.

Eben Kling. The Kids Love It  Acrylic on canvas. 2015.  

OP: Do you find that your subject matter weighs you down outside of the studio? That is to say, do you feel as though making work that references cultural anxiety becomes entwined with how you experience your day to day life?

EK: Well, I don't want to be too dramatic here, but I do feel slightly exhausted by it from time to time. Especially in the stage of image collecting. I've spent hours and hours just rifling through troubling images--it can really take the wind out of your sails when you spend all day looking at pictures of Donald Trump, sink holes, Wal-Mart, reality television stills, police etc. It's hard to close the studio door at the end of the day and forget any of that ever happened. That kind of pathos follows me for sure.

OP: You recently graduated from Umass Amherst with a MFA in painting. Tell us a little bit about how the program has affected your work? Also, could you elaborate on how your work has evolved since leaving the academic setting?

EK: The program affected my work in the way you would hope grad school would affect your work. Pardon the cliche, but I did feel extremely challenged from time to time, took a lot of risks in what I was comfortable making, lived in the studio every day, and was able to talk at great lengths many days with my peers usually closing down the American Legion at 1 am. It made my work better, and made me a more thoughtful artist.

HOWEVER, being out of the academic setting is certainly a refreshing change. I think in a way you need to really unlearn a lot of the habits you pick up in school so you can have the confidence and fortitude to follow your (seemingly) in-explainable impulses again. I think it’s really crucial to constantly question what it is your comfortable with and living in the institution can wonderfully package your ideas with a bow if you're not careful.

OP: You are currently the artist in residence at Artspace New Haven, could you tell us about how this residency and the staff there has impacted your work?

EK: My Motivation to apply for this residency came out of a concern that I would lose the momentum I had gathered during the last three years in the Studio Arts department at Umass Amherst. In addition to being allowed the time to essentially live in the studio I was teaching classes a few days a week in tandem. I was worried that this kind of constant activity would atrophy slightly if I lost all external motivators. Similar to the experience I had leaving Montserrat after earning my BFA, there is an anxiety that's coupled with leaving the support of an institution--finishing graduate school was no different. The possibility for an art practice to fade into obscurity after re-entering the "real world" is really all too common and the need to consciously work towards, or with an institution, an audience or ideal is paramount if you want to continue making stuff with no one standing over your shoulder telling you to.

Though I've continued to build on the themes and motifs that occupied my work during graduate school, the experience has certainly been enhanced and questioned due to the inquiry of the staff at Artspace. Dialogue around the work is essential to me, the formal and casual communal tendencies of this residency has been great.

Eben Kling. Looking Far and Wide for My Vibe Tribe  Acrylic on canvas. 2015.

Eben Kling. Looking Far and Wide for My Vibe Tribe  Acrylic on canvas. 2015.

OP: How has the work you've made in the past influence the work that you create today? Do you feel like your experimentation across various media (sculpture, collage, video) has changed your relationship with painting?

EK: Absolutely. There's a few examples but i think the most relevant detail is that the paintings are structured more like a composite these days. The gathering a various physical materials to make sculptures, both found and fabricated, the collection of images and media for video and collage work--this has encouraged me to approach painting the same way. they are far more constructed in a premature state than they ever have been before. The impulse has moved to the collection of photos and material rather than "spontaneous" painting

OP: Tell us about your curatorial practice via PlayLaborPlay? How does your curatorial work influence the way you view artwork, your own and that of your peers?

The genesis of almost every show we had put together over the last two years started as a loose hypothetical conversation with my collaborator Joe Saphire. We would discuss and entertain a theme, a story,  a joke etc. and then try to recognize someone we knew personally, or the work of an artist we knew and ask that individual if they would be interested in exercising that idea in a an exciting way. At times it allowed me a certain level of emotional distance from the work. By working with other artists in a collaborative fashion and engineering the shows together--realizing a site specific experience rather than showcasing existing work made out of context. This was frequently an exciting and challenging process. It was an excuse to question intention and communication in a much more lucid way than I entertain in my personal studio practice, and in that way, refreshing.

OP: Could you tell us a little bit about some projects you have planned for the future? What is next for you?

EK: I have a project scheduled to coincide with New Havens' City Wide Open Studios in the fall. I'm planning a large wall drawing/installation in the project room at Artspace in New Haven. 

OP: Thank you very much Eben! 

For more information about Eben Kling and his work check out www.ebenkling.com. To find out more about PlayLaborPlay at www.playlaborplay.com. Commotion Potion will be on view at Occam Projects from February 19 – March 7. Be sure to join us for the closing reception this Friday, March 4, for the closing reception!